POINT LEADER AIMS HIGH IN RETURN TO BANDIMERE Force Hood Seeks Sixth Final in 10 Races DENVER, Colo. -- She's the current Full Throttle points leader; the only Funny Car driver to have led the standings each of the last two years. She's...
POINT LEADER AIMS HIGH
IN RETURN TO BANDIMERE
Force Hood Seeks Sixth Final in 10 Races
DENVER, Colo. -- She's the current Full Throttle points leader; the only Funny Car driver to have led the standings each of the last two years. She's gone to the finals five times in the last nine races; posted the fastest speed ever at the new 1,000 foot distance (312.13 miles per hour) and started her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang from the front of the pack four times this season, twice as often as anyone else in the class.
As a result, Ashley Force Hood rolls into Bandimere Speedway this week as the Funny Car favorite in the 30th annual Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
It's an exceedingly lofty position for a third year driver who has qualified only once in two tries at the Mile-High Nationals and who has yet to win a racing round on the track known as Mt. Bandimere.
It's even more remarkable considering Force Hood's gender.
Before she burst onto the scene in 2007, winning the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie of the Year, conventional wisdom suggested that women simply didn't have the physical strength needed to ride herd on the most powerful and unpredictable race cars in the world.
Wrestling a short-wheelbase, 2,555-pound, 8,000 horsepower, supercharged race car down the track under G force pressures to which only jet fighter pilots and astronauts can relate simply was not considered "woman's work."
After all, it had been 10 years since a woman had even raced in the category. Furthermore, a woman never had taken a Funny Car as far as the semifinals in national event competition, much less won a race. A woman never had qualified No. 1; never even finished in the Top 10 in points.
It took Ashley little more than a year-and-a-half to completely rewrite Funny Car history.
She reached the semifinals in just her fifth start, the final round in only her 20th race and ended her rookie campaign in 10th place. She won for the first time six races into her sophomore season and started No. 1 back-to-back last year at Sonoma, Calif., and Brainerd, Minn.
Nevertheless, that was just a preamble to what already has been a sensational 2009. After winning for the second time last March at Houston, Texas, the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton now has set her sights on a familiar goal -- the NHRA Funny Car championship claimed by a John Force Racing driver 15 times in the last 19 years.
And why shouldn't she be a world championship contender? Not only does she have her dad's genes and the benefit of his considerable resources, she has the sponsor that adorned his car for every one of his victories and her co-crew chief, Dean "Guido" Antonelli, was the Team Leader on the Castrol GTX entry when Force won 10 of his 14 individual titles.
It's proven to be a formidable combination, one that should keep Ashley in contention regardless of what happens with this weekend's weather.
"We have a car that runs good in the cool, but it also runs good in the heat," Ashley said. "You're not going to win championships being timid (and) my crew chiefs (Antonelli and Ron Douglas) haven't been afraid to take chances. Sometimes what they do works; sometimes it doesn't, but this is the time to learn what the limits are -- before we get to the Countdown."